Since the start of United Nations peacekeeping efforts 56 years ago more than a million Blue Helmets have served in over 70 operations on four continents.
Currently there are 116 000 soldiers, police and civilians from 120 countries doing peacekeeping duty in 16 operations, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in during a ceremony at UN headquarters in New York to mark the International Day of UN Peacekeepers earlier this week.
The 56 years of UN peacekeeping have seen 3 200 deaths which Ban said would never be forgotten in the cause of peace.
To date this year more than 100 peacekeepers have died – the sixth year in a row the three figure mark has been reached.
“Some were killed when convoys came under attack in Darfur and South Sudan, others lost their lives in explosions in Mali and still others succumbed to floodwaters in Darfur. In the DRC and elsewhere UN peacekeepers were shot while protecting civilians,” he said adding in the Middle East, Haiti and elsewhere disease and other dangers also accounted for peacekeeping deaths.
“The threats continue this year. The insecurity in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Mali and Darfur has tested us to the limits of our capacities,” the Secretary-General said, underscoring that the UN is doing everything possible to protect its personnel in the field. “Despite our best efforts, we can never reduce the risks entirely.”
“That is why we applaud the courage, dedication and professionalism of the 120 000 peacekeepers now deployed in some of the most dangerous places on earth. I pay them my highest tribute,” said the UN chief.
UN Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, Herve Ladsous, said peacekeepers had made “a practical difference on the ground where it matters most”.
Expanding on the theme of the day – A Force for Peace, A Force for Change, A Force for the Future – he said peacekeeping is showing it can be modern and use the latest technologies to monitor movement of armed groups via the use of UAVs. MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, has deployed UAVs as part of its civilian protection tasking in the strife-torn country.
“By rapidly erecting protection sites for 90 000 civilians fleeing war in South Sudan – sometimes from an empty plot of land – we have shown we are able to adapt under tough circumstances and respond to developing crises,” Ladsous said, adding that by going after armed groups in the foothills of North Kivu with “ferocity and vigour”, UN peacekeeping has shown it will not back down when confronted by those who would threaten the most vulnerable.
Ban said the UN was improving logistics and administrative practices, strengthening infrastructure and taking other steps to “harness the power of our personnel. Our goal is to ensure that peacekeeping is a cost effective, valuable investment that brings benefits and, above all, saves lives.”